There is widespread support for the call for a new inquest from across the country, as clearly evidenced by the very high number of people who signed the e-petition organised by Anne Williams. People in Formby, Crosby and Maghull often ask me about Hillsborough and about the call for a fresh inquest into Kevin’s death. The depth of feeling from my constituents is strong today, 23 years after the terrible events at Hillsborough and it is only right that we are holding this debate today.
I would like to briefly comment on the fact that we are holding the debate in Westminster Hall and not in the main chamber. The government gave an undertaking that petitions which reached the 100,000 level would be given a debate in the House of Commons. This responsibility was passed to the Back Bench Business Committee, who in turn had very little time to allocate for such debates and were unable to give time for this debate either in the main chamber or in this second chamber. I think the importance of this issue, the 23 year injustice faced by Anne Williams and her family and the families of the other 95 who died and the many others who were affected by the trauma of the events at Hillsborough show that Kevin Williams deserved to be given a debate in government time. I also believe that a vote could have been held on a simple motion which might have called for a new inquest to be held or for the attorney general to consider whether a new inquest should be held. We are not able to hold such a vote in this chamber and in my view such a vote would have enabled parliament to show an understanding of the strength of feeling of our constituents.
The Attorney General has indicated that he will consider the evidence afresh, rather than simply review the findings of his predecessor's in office. He has also indicated that he will await the release of the papers by the Hillsborough panel before reaching a conclusion. The Attorney General has also said that he will allow further representations to be made to him once the Hillsborough panel has released the papers to the families and has told Mrs Williams that she will have the time she needs to consider the information which is in those papers. The offers made by the Attorney General are welcomed by Mrs Williams and I believe they are a step in the right direction.
However, I am cautious about what the outcome will be from the release of the papers by the Hillsborough Panel and I am cautious about the likely outcome from the consideration of new evidence by the Attorney General.
I agree with the call for a new inquest but my understanding is that this is a highly unusual step and in his response, the minister might want to explain the potential difficulty for the Attorney General in agreeing to a new inquest. He might also want to explore how the Attorney General might address any new information and what he has in mind when he says he wishes to consider the evidence afresh.
Kevin was one of 18 people from the borough of Sefton who died at Hillsborough and it is the evidence about what happened to Kevin that day which I would like to discuss. In my remaining time, I will concentrate on the medical evidence and the views of a number of experts who have examined what was said at the inquest into Kevin’s death.
The inquest into Kevin’s death decided that all those who died at Hillsborough were dead by 3.15 and that therefore the actions or lack of actions of those who might have helped and by those who could have instructed those who might have helped were irrelevant and none of the 96 could have been saved by medical attention or by being rescued from the pens at the Leppings Lane end after 3.15pm.
There are a number of people who say that they were with Kevin up to nearly 4pm. Those people all tried to save Kevin’s life but were unable to do so as they lacked the necessary medical training. The people who tried to help Kevin include at least one police officer, yet their testimony was ignored by the coroner.
The suspicion from families, friends and supporters is that the 3.15 cut off is a convenient way of avoiding evidence that lives could have been saved if ambulances had been allowed on the pitch and if police officers had been told to help people out of the Leppings Lane pens. It is the belief of Anne Williams and of many thousands of people that a new coroner's inquest would allow evidence to be presented that Kevin was still alive after 3.15 and that his life might have been saved had medical treatment been available after 3.15pm. A different coroner’s verdict for Kevin might also mean that recognition could be given to the families of a number of those who died. Recognition that decisions were taken that denied their loved ones medical care or rescue. Decisions that cost lives. Many people believe that those who took such disastrous decisions could be held accountable after all these years for causing the deaths of the 96 people who died, deaths which could have been prevented had action been taken as soon as it was clear there was a problem.
Kevin’s mother, Anne is one of a number of people who have fought since that day to get the truth about what happened at Hillsborough officially recognised.
Dr Slater gave evidence that Kevin died of traumatic asphyxia and that he died very quickly from injuries to his chest and to his neck. Dr Slater also said at the inquest that Kevin’s voice box was badly damaged, that he had suffered extensive brain damage and that he would not have been able to speak.
The evidence given by Dr Slater suggests that Kevin was not alive and did not speak to his prospective rescuers. The effect of Dr Slater’s evidence was to say that the people who claimed Kevin was alive much later than 3.15 were mistaken.
Turning to the views of Dr West. Dr West disagrees with Dr Slater. Dr West says that he could not confirm that Kevin died very quickly. The photographic evidence seen by Dr West did not show evidence of extensive injuries to Kevin’s chest. It showed injuries to his neck. Dr West says that there is no swelling of the face. This is different to the view given by Dr Slater.
In Dr West’s view, the injuries shown in the photos would have led to swelling of the voice box, which reduced the flow of air to the lungs. Dr West says that such an injury would not have been fatal straight away and that the type of injury could have been treated using an emergency tracheotomy with a rubber tube. The suggestion is that a trained paramedic could have saved Kevin’s life if ambulances had been allowed on the pitch.
Dr West has told Anne Williams that the injuries shown suggest that Kevin’s chest was not damaged. His neck was. Traumatic asphyxia is not caused by neck injuries alone. In fact Mrs Williams tells me that she challenged what the coroner had put on form 99, the coroner’s certificate. Dr Slater said that Kevin had a chest injury and a neck injury. Dr West said it was neck only. After she challenged the certificate, Dr Slater agreed that the injury was confined to the neck.
Anne Williams has been advised that injuries to Kevin’s neck could have taken 45 minutes to swell up sufficiently to close his airways. Debra Martin, who says Kevin died in her arms at 4pm is consistent in her comments with this advice.
Anne would like recognition that Kevin did not die of traumatic asphyxia given confirmation that his injuries were not consistent with such a cause of death.
Anne was also advised that Kevin may well have been able to speak as the injury to his voice box would not have prevented speech straight away. Dr West believes Kevin may well have been able to say a word or two even if he had suffered brain damage.
The evidence that Kevin was alive up to 4pm and that his injuries may well have meant he could have been saved are the reasons why Anne Williams and many thousands others believe there should be a further inquest.
There is evidence he was still breathing at 3.37 and only died just before 4pm. The family and thousands of others believe that Kevin’s death has not been properly investigated. They are backed up by Debra Smith, who was at Hillsborough as a Special Constable. Debra held Kevin in her arms as he died but found out that her statement was never given at the inquest. Instead a statement was made up without her knowledge.
I hope that the minister will explain in his response just what process the Attorney General will follow in reviewing the evidence. Many people want a new inquest for a number of the victims so that evidence about decisions taken can be considered at such an inquest and so that the impact of not allowing ambulances on the pitch or preventing escape from the pens can be considered. Many people want public recognition that those in authority took decisions that may have caused some of the deaths after 3.15pm. Perhaps the minister can explain whether a new inquest would contribute to meeting that request? And could the minister explain whether it is possible to have a new inquest or not. Expectations have been raised over the years and then dashed again. Today might be an opportunity to give an honest assessment of how likely it is that there will be a new inquest.
Anne Williams and her family want public recognition of what happened to Kevin. They want to hear the truth acknowledged.
After all the years of knockbacks, the family wants justice for Kevin and for themselves so that they feel they have done right by Kevin and for themselves and so that they can finally move on.